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If you've ridden a motorcycle for any appreciable length of time, I can virtually guarantee what your first words will be when you first ride the NC700: Something the lines of "what the $#@*" and it will happen after you hit the rev limiter for the second of third time as you pull away. If you can't adapt your riding style, you may as well stop there and hand the keys back because this motorcycle is not aimed at you.
Honda pitch the NC700 as a mid-level motorcycle. It's intended as a step-up for riders graduating from a 125/250 or those that don't want a big bike. The whole concept stems from research that indicated 90% of commuters didn't exceed 87mph (approx 140km/h) or 6000rpm.
This led Honda to take the engine from it's Jazz car and literally chop it in half, yielding a 670cc liquid cooled parallel twin that makes 48hp, revs to just 6400rpm and with a peak torque of 60nm at around 5000rpm. In other words, this means you need to shift gears a lot if you want it to hustle. It's also been designed to be very economical, with claimed figures reaching 3.7l/100km (64mpg), which is scooter territory. It's packaged very cleverly in a steel- tube chassis so that weight is very, very low, which makes the bike feel light and easy to handle. It's also got some very interesting storage options (below)
The whole project has been designed to be modular and has yielded two NC700 derivatives, the sporty looking S model and adventure themed X model. It's also the basis for the new Integra scooter, which in not in Canada, and thus we only tested the two NCs.
Read the specs and justifications for why this bike exists and you might expect a boring design. While you can't claim the NCs will win fans on looks alone, they're certainly not ugly bikes. The NC700s especially looks like a "real" bike, while the X looks liek a baby Crossrunner (also not in North America - Honda, why not?) and both are built with Honda's customary attention to detail and quality.
Like most riders, the first thing I checked was the storage. The "fuel tank" area is actually a hollow compartment claimed big enough to store a full-faced helmet and it sure can. My Arai Corsair fit in there very nicely and I was able to store a few additional items, too. While it's not quite as big as a top box, it's a very welcome feature that provides excellent storage without sacrificing the bikes aesthetic lines.
Sitting on the bike, you can also feel the lack of weight and moving the bike without power felt very easy, even for my wife who is 5'4".
The 14.1 liter fuel tank is actually under the seat and accessed by flipping the pillion pad. A nice idea, but beware when filling up - any overspills could very easily make their way to the rear tire and cause some nasty incidents.
The position is comfortable with the 700X being maybe a couple of inches taller than the 700S and a more upright riding position. It also offers a small windshield.
We took the two NCs for a days riding out in central Nova Scotia around the Cape Chignecto peninsula. The route gave us about 400km and a good mixture of twisties, highway, urban, open country roads and even a little offroading, though the latter wasn't entirely planned and all of it in some lovely scenery.
As mentioned above, I did run into the rev limiter on more than a few occasions, but I quickly grew used to it and after a few judders eventually compensated my riding style. Marina, a less aggressive rider than I, had no such problems.
Both the brakes and suspension are average. Suspension is reasonably comfortable, but non-adjustable. The brakes weren't fierce, but the combined ABS is a nice touch. At no point did I ever engage it, but the ability to automatically engage both brakes under emergency manoeuvres is going to be a boon to the less experienced.
Highway riding was reasonably comfortable, but Marina didn't appreciate the windblast on the 700S. I had no such issues, but then I am also more used to it and I can honestly say I didn't notice much difference in wind between either model. It's reasonably comfortable at highway legal(ish) speeds of 120 but beyond that there's not much left and overtaking needs to be planned ahead.
The twisties and open back roads offer a glimpse into the fun aspect of these bikes. The low center of gravity makes them easy to flick from side to side but with the ever present need to change gears to keep the speed up, I doubt you'll be pushing it too hard for too long. It's like the old days of 125 two strokes, only without the fun of the power band.
Off roading was undertaken on gravel roads, some of which were pretty rutted up. It started as a short-cut due to running out of daylight but ended up being a 15km stretch of smalll stones and puddles. Both NCs responded about as well as any other street bike would, but no better. The 700X with it's larger stance made standing on the pegs a little easier and the cABS was helpful, but I certainly wouldn't recommend anything more than that.
I had no problems with comfort. At the end of a 400km day, I had some slight tingling in my finger tips from a few stray vibrations, but as long as you stretch your legs out every so often, take breaks and move around in the seat, it's all-day comfortable as far as I am concerned. Marina did complain about some seating discomfort, but this is not uncommon for Marina, who tends to be less animated on the bike than I.
Fuel economy is certainly admirable. While I don't think we got 400km from a tank, we certainly managed over 340 and it was refreshingly cheap to fuel, especially compared with my big Tiger 1200
Both bikes can augment their storage with a set of panniers and a top box. Heated grips are also offered, along with a few other options.
Accessories from third parties, such as link lowering kits which reduce ride height, are also available at least in Europe at this time.
So, S or X?
To be honest, they are the same bike in terms of performance. The S model is the better looking of the two but I personally found the X to be a better fit for my 200lb 6' frame. Marina, seemed to prefer the S due to lower seat height, but wasn't such a fan of the wind blast. I guess it mainly depends on who you are, but the choice really does come down to aesthetics and ergonomics - both bikes will provide the same experience.
I guess the real question is did these bikes put a big grin on my face? Honestly, the answer is no. I did enjoy riding them and I can totally see the appeal. The storage is a fantastic idea and I loved being able to stop and exchange my helmet and gloves for my iPad and camera for an unecumbered lunch break. And I was able to do most of the motorcycle-type things I wanted to do - corner, accelerate, brake - with confidence. In practice, it's hard to say what was missing.
In my case, I think the answer is that I am spoiled. I have something of the thrill seeker in me and I've also ridden a lot of other bikes, most of which have given me more smiles per mile. But I'm not really the target market and that's missing the point of what Honda is trying to achieve. This is not a bike aimed at seasoned riders like me, unless it's as a second commuter bike and then I completely get it. Light, agile and with internal storage it's a great city bike and one that is capable of enteratining in moderation but I personally would need something else for the weekend and long trips.
The real problem may be the price - At $8799 for the S and $8999 for the X it's not a cheap bike. The Triumph Street triple is much more bike for only a $1000 more (and still very newbie friendly as Marina would attest) though theres no ABS. The Suzuki V-Strom 650A ABS would also give a great bang for buck at just $100 more than the 700X, though I have to say I prefer the way the X looks and the V-Strom does feel heavier. Neither of these would come that close the to low running costs of the NC700 either though. If you're worried about the price of gas, do factor that in over you lifetime.
Interested? You should also consider...
- Suzuki V-Strom 650A ($9099) - Often overlooked by most riders, this has been a stalwart part of the Suzuki range for yours
- Suzuki SFV650 Gladius ($8299) - Undercuts on price and looks. Comparable in specs to the ER6n, it's a pretty decent bike for a parts bin special
- Triumph Street Triple ($9999)- Cheap for what you get and bike of the year in many polls, it's (reasonably) learner friendly and almost impossible to outgrow. Insurance and running costs will be higher though.
- Triumph Bonneville ($9498) - modern day retro cool from Hinckley. Performance won't set your heart racing but it will make you feel good.
- Honda CBR250R ($4499/$4999 w/ABS) - A more sporty machine, albeit even lower powered, it does feel more fun than the NC700.
- F650GS ($9850) - A more capable all rounder than the NC, it is however a BMW and thus more costly to own. If you're not afraid of single cylinder bikes, you could also try the G650GS ($8800)
- Kawasaki ER6-n ($7899) - Significantly cheaper and there are quite a few used ones around. If you want slightly more adventure styling, look at the Versys 650 ($8699)
- Yamaha FZ6r ($7999) - Looks like a sport bike and you'll get more performance out of this detuned R6 engine, albeit from a few years ago. Could cost more on insurance though. The FZ8/Fazer8 ($9499/$9999) proves higer specced alternative